English PEN have joined the growing list of groups that are defending Breitbart Senior Editor MILO’s book deal with Simon and Schuster, along with his “right to offend.”
“Offensive ideas should be debunked and discredited, not censored,” proclaimed English PEN’s Head of Campaigns and Communications, Robert Sharp. “The right of Mr Yiannopoulos to write and to offend is integral to the principle of freedom of expression.”
“Likewise, Simon & Schuster US has the right to make an editorial judgment over whether to publish his book,” he continued. “Demanding that the publisher cancels the book deal amounts to a call for censorship, and should be resisted.”
Sharp added, however, that “we must remember not everyone expressing dismay is asking for the book deal to be reversed.”
“Many have simply expressed a negative opinion about Mr Yiannopolous writing and politics. Outrage is not in itself a form of censorship – it is also a manifestation of free speech,” Sharp concluded. “PEN campaigns for the victims of censorship in many countries around the world. Often, the people we seek to support have been branded as ‘dangerous’ or corrupting to society. If we seek to silence people like Milo Yiannopolous on the same grounds, then we set a terrible example to more authoritarian governments. Anyone angered by this decision should use their own free speech to counter the ideas they disagree with. Offensive ideas should be debunked and discredited, not censored.”
On Monday, Breitbart News reported that several major literature and free speech organizations had defended MILO’s book deal.
These groups, led by the National Coalition Against Censorship, included the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read Foundation, the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, the National Council of Teachers of English, the Author’s Guild, the Index on Censorship, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
“Threats to boycott publishers undermine intellectual freedom and harm readers and writers,” declared the statement, issued by the National Coalition Against Censorship. “As organizations dedicated to protecting freedom of expression, we write to comment on the calls for a boycott against Simon & Schuster because Threshold Editions, one of its imprints, has contracted to publish a book by Milo Yiannopoulos, a provocateur and self-described ‘supervillain,’ whose views and statements are highly controversial and deeply offensive to many.”
“Calls for boycotts have become a familiar response to the publication of controversial books. Typically, such online campaigns go viral at lightning speed, instantly igniting a firestorm of criticism,” they continued. “We are aware of at least seven other similar situations involving threats or fears of boycotts, four of which were successful in having books withdrawn, delayed, revised, or not reprinted.”
In the present case, the calls for a boycott stem not from the content of a book, which has not been published, but because of previous statements by the author which critics characterize as hate speech. The Chicago Review of Books has announced its intent to protest the publisher’s decision by refusing to review any books published by Simon & Schuster, even though that would deprive its readers of information about books from more than two dozen Simon & Schuster imprints, including Salaam Reads, which focuses on books with Muslim characters.
This kind of response will have a chilling effect on authors and publishers, which is undoubtedly the goal of those who support such boycotts. However, the suppression of noxious ideas does not defeat them; only vigorous disagreement can counter toxic speech effectively. Shutting down the conversation may temporarily silence disfavored views, but does nothing to prevent them from spreading and resurfacing in other ways.
Readers are of course free to criticize any book for any reason. They are likewise free to choose not to read any book that they think contains objectionable material, or to urge a boycott. Because other readers may disagree, however, publishers and writers need the freedom to express and disseminate ideas, even if they are controversial and offensive to some. We need not endorse the ideas contained in a book to endorse the right to express them.
That is the essence of freedom and democracy. As the Supreme Court observed 90 years ago:
[F]reedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; … without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile; … with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine.
In a response to the statement released, MILO thanked the groups for standing up against censorship and in favor of free speech.
“I’m aware my ideas and style aren’t to everyone’s taste. And it’s easy to look the other way when people are calling for boycotts of something you don’t care for anyway. So I’m grateful to these groups for recognizing that readers should have access to whatever kinds of literature – and ideas – they want, and that boycotts and bans always achieve the opposite effect to the one intended,” said MILO. “I look forward to confounding my critics with a smart, funny, moving book that keeps people talking all year.”
Since the announcement of Dangerous, numerous celebrities and media figures took to Twitter, attacking Simon and Schuster for giving MILO a book deal, including Sarah Silverman, Judd Apatow, and Perez Hilton.
The Chicago Review of Books also threatened to blacklist any books published by the company in 2017 as a protest, leading other censorship-happy leftists in a boycott.
“Publishing Milo Yiannopoulos is wrong,” declared Chicago Review of Books editor-in-chief Adam Morgan in a Guardian article. “My magazine is fighting back.”
Despite complaints, MILO’s book quickly rose through Amazon’s charts, becoming the number one bestselling book on the site just one day after being announced and over two months before its release.
“Milo” also became the number one trending topic on Twitter in the U.S., following the announcement of the book, with its publisher Simon and Schuster reaching the third most trending topic.